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We participated in a meeting with the federal government in order to present alternative proposals crafted by more than 50 groups.
Our country has an important opportunity — we must take advantage of the world economic crisis to leave behind the neoliberal economic system and take measures to adopt a new model of national development, based on a fair distribution of income, job creation, and the strengthening of industry and the internal market, bettering the living conditions of the Brazilian people.
The crisis has shown the entire world that neoliberalism is incapable of sustaining social, environmental, and economic development and that it is necessary to regulate the economy and strengthen the state. The economic model characterized by the hegemony of finance capital, high interest rates, a primary surplus, and the prioritization of the export sector is bankrupt.
We will not find the solution in policies that reinforce or soften the problems of neoliberalism, such as supporting banks and big corporations. Rather, we should look to initiatives that aim at structural change. In Brazil, we need to immediately reduce interest rates and control the movement of speculative capital, impeding its free circulation, by instituting new taxes and controls.
The government must reevaluate a shopworn piece of guidance given by the IMF, one of the institutions responsible for the crisis: the policy of running a primary surplus. The National Treasury spent, in the first four years of the Lula government, close to R$ 600 billion in interest payments on the public debt. We must use those resources to build schools and hire teachers to universalize access to public education.
In big cities, investment in public transportation, hospitals, and public housing — urban reconstruction — is urgent. In the countryside, food production through family- and peasant-based agriculture needs to receive public investment strengthening small- and medium-sized farms and accomplishing agrarian reform.
The government must establish goals for the creation of formal employment, within a broad public program responding to the increase in unemployment caused by the crisis. At the same time, in order to strengthen the internal market and guarantee consumption, the minimum wage and Social Security benefits must be increased, thereby redistributing income.
These measures will be viable only if public funds are invested responsibly. Subsidies used to bail out banks and speculative enterprises — businesses that did very well in the neoliberal era — would only augment the contradictions of a model already in crisis.
It is incoherent that those who always defended the market as the workings of an “invisible hand” resort to the state in a moment of difficulty. Public banks, such as the National Social and Economic Development Bank (BNDES), the Bank of Brazil, and the Federal Savings Bank, need not come to the aid of capital; they only need to approve loans with the aim of zero unemployment.
We are also worried about the predatory raid on natural resources, which expands in times of crisis, because it allows for rapid capital accumulation.
We cannot accept the irresponsible proposals of agribusiness, which aim to change environmental legislation, reducing conservation areas in the Amazon and in what remains of the Atlantic coastal forest. The oil majors have set their sights on oil in the sub-salt zone and want to maintain the existing concession regime, blocking legal changes that would guarantee national sovereignty over it.
Those who are responsible for the current economic crisis are the core countries and the institutions they supervise, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
We defend a new international order, which would respect the sovereignty of peoples and nations. Brazil needs to strengthen the strategy of regional integration, paying particular attention to Mercosur, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Regional integration would allow us to replace the dollar by local currencies in commercial transactions throughout Latin America, as Brazil and Argentina recently began to do in bilateral trade.
We participated in a meeting with the federal government in order to present these alternatives, drafted by more than 50 groups. We are not concerned about elections but about the future of the country. We want to contribute to the debate, so that the Brazilian people will mobilize for a new economic model, capable of confronting the gravity of the crisis.
We cannot lose this opportunity to make the changes our country needs.
João Pedro Stedile is an economist and member of the national coordination of the MST and of Via Campesina; José Antônio Moroni is a philosopher and director of the Brazilian Association of NGOs; Nalu Faría is a psychologist and general secretary of the Sempreviva Organización Feminista (SOF) and a member of the National Secretariat of the World Women’s March in Brazil. The original article “É hora de mudança!” was first published by the Agencia Latinoamericana de Información on 15 December 2008. Click here to read it in Spanish. English translation by Max Ajl. Ajl has written on Latin American politics and economics for the Guardian, NACLA, and the New Statesman and can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.